Sunday, 25 May 2014

Learning through landscapes – the fierce urgency for natural play

Guest Blog featured on: Project Wild Thing

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Western countries, the last century has seen staggering changes in the nature of children’s play, including ever decreasing opportunities for outdoor play. A culture of fear, over-organisation and the institutionalisation of childhood has all had a significant impact on childhood play time.
Schools have a vital role in reversing this trend, through both the attitudes of teachers and the design of school grounds - which play a crucial role in not only the promotion of, but also the type of play and physical activity children engage in. School grounds should be designed in a way that promotes self-initiated, uninterrupted, creative natural play.

Natural environments are recognised as fostering higher levels of physical activity than traditional playgrounds. When playgrounds contain natural, wild areas it provides children more incentives for play, and it has been observed that children play more enthusiastically in these environments. Less structured and creative play not only promotes social interaction with peers but  when compared with traditional playgrounds, children in naturally designed play areas exhibit orderly and long-lasting play in mixed age groups, having a further positive influence on social competencies.

As well as having a positive impact on social behaviours, spending regular time in natural environments enhances the development of motor abilities and improves concentration. Significant improvements in balance and coordination in children who played regularly in natural environments compared with children who used traditional playgrounds, has also been observed.
Play within a natural environment promotes and fosters progression in so many developmental domains because of its holistic approach. Promoting natural play in childhood realises the need for holistic, rich interactions with our environment, as well as increasing our physical activity levels and enhancing social competencies.

As a result, we could begin to see a reverse in the worrying trends of increasing childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders and mental health problems. I also believe that children would develop an even greater passion for learning, and schools would be a place where their creativity and thirst for adventure has a chance to come alive.

A more holistic approach to learning nurtures and encourages engagement in all areas of the curriculum. Schools need to feel empowered to deliver this holistic style of teaching by being given the freedom to organise and deliver the curriculum in a way that best suits their circumstances and learners.

The wheels are turning and footprints are being made, we must keep moving in the right direction, a good work has already begun. Voices are being heard and governments are beginning to recognise that changes must be made for the health and well-being of the nation.

We must grasp the need for a child nature reunion, and be a driving force in encouraging and implementing the changes that need to be made, both in and out of schools. We must continually strive for a future, or perhaps more importantly – a present, where we realise the fierce urgency for natural play, embrace the possibilities of our surrounding landscape to see a real change in the lives of our children, ourselves and the environment.

Support children’s need for learning outside the classroom by visiting here

Menna Pritchard - University of Wales, Trinity Saint David
Menna's recently completed dissertation focuses on natural play in childhood. She is soon to graduate from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David where she has completed the BA Outdoor Education programme and where she hopes to continue her research through the MA.
The programme of study offers a multidisciplinary approach to Outdoor Education which draws upon education, leadership and environmental theory to explore the potential of the natural environment to offer an alternative, experientially focused approach to learning. Visit:
Follow Menna @goingitalone, University @TSDSHOE for more.